Living abroad expands mental horizons: Study

April 24th, 2009 - 4:41 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, April 24 (IANS) Living abroad can be a cherished experience and might even expand our mental horizons, according to new research.
William Maddux, assistant professor of organisational behaviour at INSEAD, a business school, conducted five tests with Adam Galinsky of the Kellogg School of Management to test the idea that living abroad and creativity are linked.

In one study, MBA students at the Kellogg School were asked to solve the Duncker candle problem, a classic test of creative insight.

In this problem, individuals are presented with three objects - a candle, a pack of matches and a box of tacks - on a table placed next to a cardboard wall.

The task is to attach the candle to the wall so that it burns properly and does not drip wax on the table or the floor. The correct solution involves using the box of tacks as a candleholder - one should empty the box, tack it to the wall, and place the candle inside.

The solution is considered a measure of creative insight because it involves the ability to see objects as performing different functions from what is typical (i.e., the box is not just for the tacks but can also be used as a stand).

The results showed that the longer students had spent living abroad, the more likely they were to come up with a creative solution.

In another study, also involving Kellogg’s MBA students, researchers used a mock negotiation test involving the sale of a gas station.

A deal based solely on sale price was impossible because the minimum price the seller was willing to accept was higher than the buyer’s maximum.

However, because the two parties’ underlying interests were compatible, a deal could be reached only through a creative agreement that satisfied both parties’ interests, said an INSEAD release.

Maddux and Galinsky then ran a follow-up study to see why living abroad was related to creativity. With a group of MBA students at INSEAD in France, they found that the more students had adapted themselves to the foreign culture when they lived abroad, the more likely they were to solve the Duncker candle task.

The findings will appear in the May issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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